I am really really happy with my life” she said... and that was music to my ears.
A few weeks ago, we had a gathering with our “Jaguars” alumni. The Jaguar Youth group was our first environmental youth group, which we put together with the support of the AVINA Foundation in 2003. The program was funded to create environmental leaders and we used the money to do just that. Although we couldn’t predict how much impact this was going to have, our recent meeting 15 years later showed us just how much it worked.
In 2003, Drake Bay was a very remote town that was not easy to get to. It took 6 hours by car and an extra hour by boat to get there from San Jose. There were a few ecotourism businesses that were mostly in the hands of foreigners. Locals would work at these businesses or would cut trees or hunt to make ends meet. Women traditionally stayed at home and girls often would drop out of school early because they had unintended pregnancies or because they had to help take care of their siblings.
Drake Bays first experience with environmental education came this year. Every Friday, I would drive my old Suzuki Sidekick from San Jose to Sierpe and then take the boat to Drake Bay in order to meet the kids the next day. Participants between 9 and 15 years old would meet with me at an abandoned table on the beach, where we would talk about the environment, do beach cleanups and play. Oh, how I loved seeing those happy faces!
With the help of AVINA funding, we managed to put together a multi-day field trip that included visiting projects in coastal areas that were promoting sea turtle conservation, responsible waste management, and wildlife rescue. We took almost 20 Jaguar youth on what was for many their first time traveling outside of Drake Bay. They stayed in hotels and donated housing along the way. Because so few of them had ever eaten at a restaurant before, I had one of my friends host them in his restaurant and serve them as full paying customers. They were able to experience customer service and see how a restaurant operated. We wanted to show them more! In another town, we met with the leader of a group of women who had overcome big challenges and started a recycling program. Later, we stayed in a big house with a pool that a good friend of mine had lent to us. Many of these kids had never seen a pool. They had a lot of fun! Along the way, we talked about Costa Rica, about our conservation efforts, about values, about respecting nature and ourselves. We also talked about reproductive responsibility and rights as girls in Osa have a high percentage of teen pregnancies. That trip was a blast, but I also think they learned a lot. They learned that there was a big world to explore outside of their town and they learned how valuable it was to keep it healthy!
With the support of friends and family we organized many more activities. My husband and our friend Paul donated a scuba diving class, we figured maybe one day they could become dive professionals. Our friend Sabina took the kids to Chirripó National Park which is the highest peak in the country. And our friend Gustavo would take them exploring in Corcovado National Park. These were just a few of the activities we organized.
15 years later, we had a reunion and I could not be happier with what I saw. The giggly little girls we taught were now confident women. They thanked me and the foundation because they believe that their experience with us not only helped them care about the environment but also expand their horizons. They said that when they were done with the Jaguars Youth Group, they were ready to learn more, to study, to experience, to travel and to take care of themselves. Two young women Miriam and Raquel (25 and 29 years old), are now a social worker and a successful entrepreneur respectively. Raquel was telling me how much she liked her life, how happy she is… “really really happy”, she said. She truly appreciates the learning experience and now wants to do the same for other girls. She wants to teach others how to take care of themselves and avoid early pregnancies so they can continue their studies and be anything they want in life. Now, they are promoting conservation from their own workplaces and are ready to give back!! These are the new leaders that AVINA was hoping for.
Sadly, after 2005, my job became more of an administrative job. But we have had several amazing environmental educators after that. Environmental educators that were also role models and counselors to hundreds of children! Federico, Daniela, Alvaro, Mayra and currently Helena have been working with hundreds of kids in the Osa Peninsula. I can’t wait to see what the youngsters from the next generation will become! If they follow the footsteps of Miriam and Raquel they should be just fine!
This project has survived for 15 years because of your support and the support of people like you! Thank you for these awesome 15 years.